Broccoli is a top-notch vegetable that doesn't seem to have much in common with eggplant or tomatoes, but it is a Mediterranean vegetable. And like those of similar origin, it's fabulous seasoned simply with olive oil, red pepper flakes, capers and garlic.
Broccoli's appearance in our farmers markets collides with the last of our summer harvest, a marker as sure as the yellow school buses rattling down the street in 80-degree weather, a reminder that autumn is here. Right now, our local broccoli is especially flavorful and it won't last long. Broccoli is best stored unwashed, wrapped in damp paper towels in the refrigerator for just about two or three days. Do not store broccoli in a sealed container or plastic wrap — that traps moisture and promotes mold. Fresh broccoli requires air circulation.
While broccoli florets are the most familiar part of this vegetable, too often recipes fail to realize the potential of those tender yet delicious stems and the slender, delicate leaves. If the stems are too thick and seem woody, just peel off the fibrous layer with a paring knife. Be careful not to overcook broccoli, as it then turns tasteless and swampy. Broccoli isn't great raw; it can be blanched or steamed in minutes. You'll know it's done when it turns a vibrant green.
If you've never roasted broccoli, or cauliflower or broccoli rabe for that matter, this method will be a delightful surprise. The high heat turns the stems tender and dark, while the frilly ends of the florets turn crispy. Roasted broccoli is wonderful served right from the pan as a snack, or as an appetizer paired with cheese. Toss it with pasta or serve it over golden polenta for a speedy vegetarian or vegan weeknight dinner.
Roast Broccoli on Polenta with Toasted Hazelnuts
Note: Allow about a 1/2 pound of broccoli per person. The golden polenta makes a lush creamy bed for the flavorful roasted broccoli and toasted hazelnuts. This recipe works equally well with cauliflower or Brussels sprouts. On its own, roasted broccoli makes a wonderful side dish or appetizer. To toast the nuts, spread them out on a roasting pan and toast in a 350-degree oven until they smell nutty and begin to brown. If the peel on the hazelnuts is tough, turn the nuts into a clean dish towel and rub until some of the brown flakes off. From Beth Dooley.
• 4 1/2 c. water, or more as needed
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 c. medium or fine cornmeal
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• Butter to taste
• 2 1/2 lb. broccoli, florets and stems cut into 2-in. pieces
• 2 to 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
• 1 tsp. cumin seeds, optional
• 1 tsp. kosher salt, more if needed
• 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice, to taste
• Generous pinch red pepper flakes, to taste
• 1/4 c. toasted, chopped hazelnuts or cashews (see Note)
To make the polenta: Bring the water to a boil in a medium-size heavy saucepan set over high heat. Add the salt, then slowly pour the cornmeal into the water, stirring with a wire whisk or wooden spoon. Continue stirring as the mixture thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low. Cook for about 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. If the polenta becomes too thick, thin it with a bit more water, stirring well. It's done when the grains are swollen and taste "cooked," not raw. Season with salt and pepper and swirl in butter to taste. Cover the polenta and set aside while roasting the broccoli.
To roast the broccoli: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss the broccoli with the oil, cumin seeds, if using, and salt. Spread the broccoli out on a baking sheet and roast until the edges of the florets begin to blacken and the stems are tender, shaking the pan once or twice, about to 15 to 20 minutes. Serve broccoli over the cooked polenta and season with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and red pepper with the nuts scattered over the top.
Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.